The Phenomenon That is Kim Yuna + My Homestay So Far

There is no female athlete in the world who is paid more money annually than South Korea’s very own Kim Yuna. There is also probably no person who has more completely taken over control of an entire country without being in political office than Kim Yuna. This place is totally obsessed with her. So you can imagine that the last few days have been pretty rough since she graciously accepted a silver medal to retire on.

A little bit about Olympics coverage in Korea–it’s nothing like coverage in the States. First off, events are played live instead of in a recorded and cut format like NBC shows, so the better parts of the waking hours are taken up by curling since it’s events like these which take place at the times no one wants to watch them in Sochi. Events like figure skating or speed skating usually take place in the wee hours of the morning, and so it was for Miss Kim. The first night she took the ice at exactly 2:24 a.m, and there was a shocking number of people who had obviously stayed up to watch it as gathered from all of the puffy faces on the bus the next day. This was convenient for me because it was the night my medical tests required that I sleep only four hours. At least I wasn’t alone.

The impressive bit, though, was what was happening on the rest of the channels the entire day leading up to her performances, because every single one of them was playing something about her. There were variety shows featuring her, there were commercials where she was endorsing a skincare product, and of course her previous performances were on loop. Literally on loop. Here is a photo from the Vancouver performance to prove it.

Kim Yuna

The day after her first performance, she was all over the TV again. This time, though, there was no variety. It was all the previous night’s performance, again on loop. People watched it on their smart phones on the bus and subway. The ones who couldn’t afford the data for that month looked at stills from it. I was asked about it by total strangers if I had watched it. The nation was nuts. And then–the unthinkable. She didn’t win.

Kim Yuna Eye

Abraham Lincoln that if you want to test a man’s character, you should give him power. I assert that if you want to test a Korean’s character, you should tell them the Kim Yuna lost to a Russian. Social media was totally blowing up with complaints, a petition reached some ungodly number of signatures in something like 20 hours, and overall, everyone was really upset. I was there on State Street when UK won in 2012, and this might have been worse. In Korean style, of course. Meaning they were generally also respectful to the winner and only said that Yuna’s was better (for the most part). And then turned the topic to Victor Ahn.

On a lighter note, though, I’m noticing that Koreans are amazingly honest. Today while shopping in Costco with my host family, we left our cart totally unattended with all of our personal belongings in it for several minutes while selecting a laundry hamper and trash can. When we came back, it was all untouched. They also have a system in the grocery stores where patrons have to pay a few won to take a cart and then reattach their cart to the others while returning it. You are probably thinking, “There’s no way that works.” Well, you’re wrong. It’s amazing.

Speaking of my host family, I’m finally moved in to my homestay! I love it so far. Here are a few pictures from my room.

My Room 1

My room 2

My room 3

My host parents are lovely people. His name is Kwang-su, and he decided beforehand that I should call him KS because it sounds more natural in English speech. It doesn’t, but that’s okay. Kwang-su is a numbers guy for SC Johnson and works something crazy like 12 hours a day every weekday. My host mother’s name is Gye-young, and I call her Kay. Kay is an English teacher at a private academy here. They have two really cool dogs, Jang-gu and Coco. They lived in America for eight years, so what that means for me is that today’s breakfast included bacon. They’re very, very nice and they’re always trying to give me things, which I think is sort of a staple of Korean culture, but I’m still not quite used to it. They are also immaculately clean (they listed one of their ways to spend free time as straightening up the house), so I’m very pleased with that. They live in a nice apartment complex in central Seoul near Namsan Tower, so they assure me that it will be really easy for a taxi driver to find this place if I should somehow not be able to use public transportation correctly (they know me too well already). Kwang-su likes to tell me things I probably already know, and Kay tells me just to let him do this because he is stubborn. They’re really fun, and I think this will be an awesome place to spend a semester!

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The Mystical WC–Comparing Culture One Stall at a Time


In the informal poll I held recently, public toilets won out for the topic of this blog post over the Olympics. I’m not sure what that should say about my readers, but I’m keeping you all at arms’ length from now on. Below are some notable differences I’ve seen between bathroom etiquette in the US and here in Seoul.

1. Koreans don’t flush their toilet paper–I think I have mentioned this one before in my list of observations (not stereotypes, fine line I know). Instead, the toilet paper goes in the wastebaskets which appear in every stall. I assume this makes life much easier for groups of people like Transy’s Bathroom Squad (or whatever they’re going by now…The Water Closet Warriors? The Commode Crusaders? The Artist Formerly Known as Prince?), who seek bathroom equality of opportunity for people of all sexes and genders. Go them! I’m also absolutely positive that this is not South Korea’s motivation for not flushing their toilet paper, as I think it probably has about 100% more to do with the fact that their septic system just can’t handle millions of tons of toilet paper, but I like to be optimistic and say they probably thought of that as a side benefit. Anyway, it’s not so bad right now, but I’m guessing the subway bathrooms get way raunchy in the hot summertime.

2. Traditional toilets still appear in Korean public stalls–These look something like this


and are really, really difficult to use, especially if it’s your first time and you’re also scared in the hospital trying to hit a tiny cup without a funnel to give a urine sample. Also they are predictably super insanitary, and I now understand at least one reason which we must take our shoes off all the time. I don’t want pee all over my house either, and I must assume that all surfaces where shoes have been are also surfaces where pee is.

3. All of the Western-style toilets have lids–This is so you can close it to flush the toilet and therefore trap some of the germs in. The lids often have some kind of sticker or design on the inside to make it cute, like a cat or something. Like most things in Asian culture, this is mostly adorable but also kind of weird.

4. Most bathrooms in Korea have a touch-free hand dryer…–and you must be a magician to activate it. Koreans also like bar soap, so sometimes they’ll have a bar of soap attached to a metal rod in lieu of liquid or foam. Making use of this soap is an activity that can, in the right company, seem a little suggestive, so choose your bathroom buddies wisely.

5. Koreans love bathroom-y stuff–This observation is based on things like the aforementioned poop-themed cafe, the Suwon toilet museum (lovingly known as Mr. Toilet House), restaurants where the bowls are miniature toilets and the food is shaped like poop…I could go on, but I won’t.

So the point is that Koreans are very particular about bathrooming, and like most things, they take it a little far. But that’s why we love them!

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Observations about Koreans Thus Far:

1) They run everywhere.

2) Everyone is dating.

3) There are motorbikes everywhere…and these are immune to traffic laws.

4) Actually, everything is immune to traffic laws.

5) They are obsessed with Frozen.

6) Everybody smokes.

7) Kimchi cures…well, everything.

8) Koreans will push you over and will not apologize.

9) If your friend is blonde, they will stare at you.

10) Anybody who is Asian is about to get spoken to in Korean, even if they are obviously not Korean.

11) NEVER ask a Korean person for directions if you’re on a time table. They will absolutely not be able to help you.

12) They work at weird hours. This information is gathered from the business which my current roommate and I can see from our window.

13) They make weird things cute. For example, this poop-themed cafe.


14) At every protest will arrive trucks and trucks of policemen…doing absolutely nothing.

15) They don’t flush their toilet paper.

17) They spit everywhere, all the time.

18) They don’t have trash cans on the street. Some people come during the day and pick up the trash off the corners.

19) Korean people like to have their bars and motels very close together. When none are available, they make do with what they have. DO NOT use a DVD room for actually watching movies.

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A Look at South Korea

I’ve finally got a second to upload a few photos from my trip so far.


Here was where I got my ticket from Incheon to Kate’s apartment in Migeum.


And here was me waiting inside for the bus to get there.


Even the countryside lights up at night.


Kate treated me to a delicious udon noodle dinner, complete with that fish cake thing over there.


Me in a traditional Korean hanbok. It’s also tradition to take a photo of yourself while wearing one.

Below are some photos of Buddhas, crowns, Bodhisattvas, and celadon ceramics from the National Museum of Korea.



This is funny because it says “GD’s wife.” GD is G-Dragon, a very famous Korean singer/rapper/dancer/model/overall amazing person.


Translation: “I love China. I love Korean girls. ^_^”

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So I live in France now.

It’s a very strange concept.

To be on one side of the world one day, and then to be on the other side of the world the next day.

To step off of a plane and into a completely different culture.  To speak a different language.  To be surrounded by no one you’ve ever seen.  To send a postcard to someone and write, “hope all is well in the future”, because, you know.  Time.

To realize that, man, the world is huge.

To experience how mind-blowingly open and lovely a person can be that she/he would welcome a complete stranger into her house to live.

To find a small figurine of a king in your piece of cake at dinner and be presented with a cardboard crown, because traditions are fantastic.

To feel an an unwelcome and unnecessary fear well up in your stomach when you’re standing in line at a phone store because you don’t know how to say ‘pay as you go’ en francais.

And then to feel excitement and pride welling up 30 minutes later when you realize you live in Aix-en-Provence now.

Where the streets are narrow and I don’t know whether they’re for pedestrians or cars.  And the buildings are dirty and old and emanate a sense of excellence and overwhelming exquisiteness.  And I can’t say ‘meet at the fountain’ because one exists on every corner.

They told us that we shouldn’t smile too much, because French people don’t do that.  But… I don’t know if I can contain myself.

Beach in Nice, France

Beach in Nice, France

Coast in Nice, France

Coast in Nice, France


Nice, France


Aix-en-Provence, just down from my apartment…

at Marchutz School of Art

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1000 words will never be enough


Beautiful sunset in my neighborhood, Sacre Coeur 3


Me and me newest friend at a hip hop exposé on my friend Elli’s birthday.  He taught me what I should do with my hands while rapping, held my hand during the concert, walked to me the bathroom – what an 8-year-old gentleman


Sacre Coeur vs. Derkle at Stade Demba Diop


Ile de Madeleine off the coast of Dakar – beautiful November morning!


Panorama in the Sahel Desert – starting from the sun and moving towards the moon. Is it day or night right now, you ask? Yes.


Same desert, same time, same camera – started from the moon, moved towards the sun and it’s a whole new world


Lodging for the Festival du Sahel, a weekend-long festival of world music and wonderful people in the desert


Thanksgiving in Dakar!  Many thanks to my school for hosting and great friends with which to share the noms.


Entitled “Come at me, bro”.  Bird reserve in Saint Louis, Senegal. 


Heading to the beach after an awesome night in Saly, Senegal for my friend Jamie’s birthday!

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Bienvenue au Senegal!

Bonjour everyone!

I have now been in Senegal for three months and am beginning the last quarter of my journey.  I cannot believe how quickly the first three months went and I know I can’t even fathom how much this trip has changed me yet.  But for now I’m just relishing all the daily crazy adventures!

For some blogs about the first part of my trip you should check out my personal blog at !  I’ve celebrated Eid al-Ahda here, visited the largest waterfall in Senegal, become obsessed with café touba, bissap juice, and fataya, trusted my life to taximen, planted trees in northern Senegal, and met incredible people.  I’ve learned so much about culture, politics, values, social norms, perspectives, and to be cliché, life.  It has definitely not been an easy road though.

I agree with Shane (read: blog below) about deciding to study in a non-anglophone country.  I spent the greater part of the first couple months here just trying to be less confused about everything.  What you just asked me a question, Mama?  Well it had the word “lekk” in it which means to eat, so…yes I’m hungry? You’re hungry? I haven’t eaten yet? We’re having dinner?  It’s been particularly interesting in Senegal, where the official language is French but the language spoken most is Wolof.  Many people also learn English in school – people my age tend to be able to speak it pretty well (luckily for me my host sister is one of those people).  So, I have three classes in French (one being Wolof…taught in French), three classes in English, speak Wolof and English at home and French to one of our maids Seyni, speak French and English to friends while they speak English back to me to practice, speak French to new people I meet but Wolof to taximen and boutique owners, and listen to everyone around me speak Wolof when I’m not part of the conversation.  Basically I’m at a WoloFranGlish stage in which I can’t actually speak any language properly anymore (in fact, yesterday I am positive that I made a sentence using words from all three languages).  The fluidity of language is really cool though – there are some things I’ve realized can only really be expressed in one language or another, certain words in one language that don’t exist in another, and ways to communicate even if you are reduced to a second-grade level in every language.

Everyone who encouraged me to come to Senegal thought I would be fluent in French when I got back – I’m not even sure if I will be fluent in English anymore.  But there is so much about a language that can only be learned by immersing yourself.  For example, I still remember the level of boss-ness I felt when I realized I had had a conversation over text messages only in Wolof and a little French at the end.  I not only texted in a different language, but used abbreviations.  Text speak. I could pass as a Senegalese preteen!  There are also a lot of colloquial phrases and local sayings that you would never learn in a classroom; and regardless of how much more of the language you actually learn, you definitely get better at conversing quickly and without translating in your head.  Right now my technique is working – we’ll see what happens when I get back!

I am living in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.  At 2.5 million people, it’s the largest city I’ve ever lived in and I am adjusting to city life as well as a new culture.  There is so much right at your fingertips here, if you’re willing to deal with public transportation of course – cultural centers, concerts, beaches, theater, crazy night life (Dakar ne dort pas, yo), football games, restaurants and street food, and a conglomeration of people.  Being in the capital city is basically experiencing Senegal on steroids – you are closer to the politics, the organizations, the people that make (or don’t make) things happen.  Before I came, I had some expectations of Africa and I definitely heard others’ expectations of what my life would be like here, and I’m happy to say that Dakar has crushed those expectations into a fine flour-y powder, mixed that flour with many other ingredients and made cookies out of it (weird metaphor, told you I can’t speak English anymore).  If you might be interested in studying here or in an African country, I highly recommend it!

There’s so much I want to do in this next month that all the excitement is kind of stressing me out. I’ve been able to travel all over Senegal already but there is so much left to do!  On the agenda for the next month is Lac Rose, a lake that turns pink during the dry season because of certain bacteria in the water; Saint Louis, the former capital of West Africa; Ngor Island just off the coast; finding a Mexican restaurant because I’ve been craving tacos for like 5 weeks now; making Thanksgiving dinner for the family; and visiting the holy city Touba.  Inshallah! (If Allah wills, pretty much the slogan of our program).  I will keep the world updated on my adventures – thanks for reading!

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Half Down, Half to Go

Hola todos!

This semester, I’m across the Atlantic in the country of flamenco, bullfights, and the nonexistence of clothes dryers – Sevilla, España. It’s been a wild ride from the moment I arrived in Malaga the first day of Sepetember, and since then it’s surely had a fair amount of surprises. But the experience truly has been incredible and worth almost every moment.

My first few weeks were spent learning the culture (and it’s a shock for sure, even in another first world country), adjusting to the lifestyle (lunch at 3 p.m., whereas Transy dinner is casually 5:30 p.m.), and working on our Spanish skills. The greatest mystery I’ll never know until I return is how my Spanish has changed. I felt confident before leaving that I could get by aright without too much of a struggle, but after being here two months I have no clue what my abilities are like anymore. Some of my relatives and friends thought that for me to be doing this, I must be fluent or at least will be by the time I’m back. That’s a joke. Learning a language is totally different from being fully immersed in it, and it really is sink or swim. For me, that has meant saying “que bien” every other sentence, whether someone just told me a great story or just asked me how to find the Cathedral. Clearly I’m dependable for any questions people may have.

Sevilla is truly the jewel of Spanish lifestyle. This region is where everything you’ve learned about Spain actually applies, from siestas and extreme heat (it was basically July until last week) to the late nights and rich culture. I’ve had some interesting stories so far, which you’re more than welcome to check out on my blog (, and that can give a much better perspective on what life’s been like living here for the past few months. It’s worth a gander and if you’re considering studying abroad in Sevilla, like most Transy students do, I’d definitely suggest it or asking me any questions.

Studying here is incredible but I can’t imagine anyone agreeing that it’s easy in any country. Some people have thrown themselves into their programs excitedly and without any reservations (most of which I’m guessing went somewhere that spoke English, just saying…) but it’s tough if you go somewhere with a language barrier. Because of my program, I’m taking three classes directly at the University of Sevilla (70,000 students; yes, four 0’s in that number) and it’s a daily challenge.

Back at Transy, language classes are never difficult to understand because you’re so used to the professor’s manner of speaking. Here, I’m lucky to absorb 60% of what is said (I still have absolutely no clue what is going on in my Geomorphology & Hydrology class, like, oo I dunno, when our exam is). You have to work hard to try and listen, and that’s not even the most difficult part. Conversation for me is where everything can turn south quite fast. But continuously making the effort really makes a huge difference and will vastly improve your conversation skills. It’s just the accepting the fact that you sound ridiculous and are making plenty of grammatical errors that makes it hard. But it’s part of the experience, and everyone goes through it.

So far I haven’t gotten to do much travel, but that’s because our program requested we not make any trip plans until we arrived. So far we’ve gone to Barcelona (which was basically another country from Spain; they spoke more English than Spanish since Catalan is the regional language), and Ronda. Both were incredible and I made sure to take as many pictures as a touristy college student could, so check them out on my blog if you get the chance. One of the best pieces of advice I read before leaving from students that studied abroad is to explore your country more than trying to conquer all of a continent, like Europe, in 4 months. You will go broke quickly, whereas if you make some day/weekend trips to small towns or huge cities wherever you’re staying, you’ll save plenty and get a much better perspective of the culture you’re there to learn about.

That said, this weekend I’m making a casual trip to the Canary Islands (because espanYOLO, as many people have gotten accustomed to saying). But my program kindly reimburses us for a certain amount of money we spend on trips within Spain on travel, accommodations, cultural events, etc. Being me, I stepped out of the box and am going to the islands owned by Spain way off the western coast of Africa. It’s sure to be an interesting trip to say the least (just search Tenerife on Google and awe). Other than that, I have 2 other big trips planned to Morocco and England, but it’s crazy how time winds down so fast here now that we’re over the hump. The first part kind of dragged out, but with so many busy weekends coming up it’ll be hard to explore the rest of Sevilla I have yet to see (having no classes Friday is the greatest blessing I swear by it).

Other than that, I hope to add some advice and more descriptions of what life is like here. Until then, thanks for reading!

2013-10-12 13.17.05No, those are not the Misty Mountains. (Ronda)

2013-10-18 13.11.31Barcelona

2013-09-27 13.41.36Bienvenidos a Sevilla!

2013-10-19 16.20.15La Sagrada Familia; most incredible cathedral I’ve ever seen 2013-10-19 16.15.01Inside of Sagrada Familia (modeled like a forest) 2013-11-01 12.10.22So the statue of Mio Cid got festive for Halloween…(it’s all yarn, and apparently an American did it during the night. How.)

2013-09-21 11.16.32Out in the campo of Sevilla 2013-09-19 11.52.44Plaza España, Sevilla

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Greetings from Regensburg, Germany

A day trip to the beautiful Passau, Germany.

A day trip to the beautiful Passau, Germany.


Mikki ordered Cow Tongue and let the table try some.

Mikki ordered Cow Tongue and let the table try some.

Marty, Mikki, Vinicius (Brazil) and myself getting on the wrong train and ending up in Ingolstadt.

Marty, Mikki, Vinicius (Brazil) and myself getting on the wrong train and ending up in Ingolstadt.

One of the classic German beer festivals.

One of the classic German beer festivals.

I’m writing this blog on my ALMOST final train home. After a series of mishaps and unfortunate events my supposed 6 hour train ride from Hamburg to Regensburg became 12. (Although I should not complain, I think I’ll consider this an extended tour of Germany…)
Anyway, each morning I wake up, walk the 15 minutes to school and take a 6 hour intensive Sprachkurs (German speaking course). My class consists of many people from different countries and cultures which is nice because I get to learn a little about their culture as well.
After our Sprachkurs, we have the rest of the day as free time. Shopping, going out at night and traveling usually squeeze themselves in, especially on the weekends.
There are many places to go at night including bars, dance clubs and very nice restaurants. Our school provided bus fare for us for the entire duration of our trip so getting around Regensburg is simple and safe.
On the weekends, we are usually given the option of traveling with the other international students. So far trips to Passau (pictured above), Nürenburg, and Prague have been planned, but I believe once it gets warmer we will travel further. Each city we travel to captivates me with its beauty and history. I believe Germany is not given enough credit for the beauty and timelessness of their cities.
Grace, Mikki and I as well as the other KIIS students have had some interesting stories. Getting on the wrong bus/train is normal for us (see Ingolstadt picture above), as well as accidentally hitting the “emergency” button… Traveling to festivals (also pictured above), trying local cuisine (Cow Tongue picture…also above) and meeting so many interesting people. I cannot wait to see what the next 4 months have in store for us!



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Greetings from South Caicos in the Turks & Caicos Islands!

Life on South Caicos at the School for Field Studies Center for Marine Resource Studies is certainly not dull. We have been here for close to six weeks now, and I have loved every minute of it.  Our days here are never the same. We rise early in the morning and start off with breakfast and a morning meetings, and then we jump head-first into the day’s activities. This can be anything from scuba diving for a coral assessment, pretending to think like marine policy enforcement officers out in the Marine Protected Area, or sitting in the classroom for a lecture.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are reserved for waterfront activities and community outreach, and have come to be my favorite days here on South Caicos. On Wednesdays, I help teach a science class at the local high school. Currently, we are discussing biomes and the different geographical regions, characteristics, and properties of each. The students in my class are always so excited to have a student from The School for Field Studies in the classroom with them. It is truly a highlight of their week. On Saturdays, I teach adult swim lessons in the ocean near the center. One of the neatest things about living in such a small community like South Caicos is being continuously involved with different community members. The high school teacher that I work with on Wednesdays comes to my swim lessons on Saturday!

Wednesdays and Saturdays are also great because of diving. I have been an avid diver for a number of years, and the diving on South Caicos is some of the greatest I’ve seen. The reefs are rather healthy when compared to other sites around the Caribbean, and we see sharks, turtles, eagle rays, and stingrays practically every time we get in the water. It’s absolutely incredible!

The abundant ocean life here provides us with ample opportunities for our Directed Research projects. My project will involve interviewing local fishermen to gather local ecological knowledge and applying that to assessing the historical conch and lobster fishing patterns of South Caicos, the most important fishing community in the Turk & Caicos Islands.

I can’t believe that it’s already been six weeks here on the Big South, and I am looking forward to all that the next month and a half hold for us here at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies!

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